The Renton City Council is considering legislation that could force approximately 200 homeless residents living in the Red Lion Hotel in downtown Renton to leave in six months.
The council’s emergency ordinance, which it may vote on this week, modifies the city code, arguing that the hotel cannot be used as a long term shelter. The ordinance also says any shelter in Renton cannot house more than 100 people, must have a plan to prevent residents from violating city codes while outside of the shelter, and create consequences for such violations, according to the Renton Reporter.
The proposal escalates a months-long dispute between the city and King County about the hotel’s use as a homeless shelter in downtown Renton.
In April, the County moved residents from shelters in Seattle’s downtown and Queen Anne neighborhood to the Red Lion, in an emergency order intended to prevent COVID-19 spread among shelter residents, according to the Renton Reporter. More than 87% of residents in the shelter have a disability or suffer from serious mental illness or substance abuse disorder, according to The Seattle Times.
By May, Renton Mayor Armondo Pavone asked the county not to renew the lease for the shelter and to move the residents elsewhere, citing an increase in 911 calls, criminal activity and harm to local businesses.
In June, Renton leaders argued that operating a shelter in the Red Lion went against zoning codes. When the county appealed this to the Renton hearing examiner, the examiner said the county needed a permit for the shelter from Renton, but that the Renton zoning code as written wasn’t clear enough about homeless shelters.
Dan Malone — the executive director of the Downtown Emergency Services Center, which operates the shelter in the Red Lion — told The Seattle Times it would be difficult to meet the requirements in the ordinance.
King County health officer Dr. Jeff Duchin submitted a letter during public comment speaking against the ordinance, saying the six-month timeline was too short and the risk to homeless people from COVID-19 would not be over by June. The Times reported Duchin said, “The proposed ordinance will risk the health of the homeless persons now safely staying at the Red Lion, and the community.”
King County Executive Dow Constantine is still hoping to buy hotels in the county, in a plan to create 2,000 units of housing for chronically homeless people, paid for with a new sales tax, The Seattle Times reported. The catch: Several cities in suburban King County, including Renton, have opted to use the tax money for their own housing projects, shrinking the available pot of money.
Read more in the Dec. 2-8, 2020 issue.